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3 March 2015
Ancient wheat points to Stone Age trade

Britons may have discovered a taste for bread thousands of years earlier than previously thought, conclude scientists who discovered that samples from a now-submerged prehistoric camp in southern England contained traces of ancient wheat DNA.
     The findings suggest that Stone Age hunter-gatherers co-existed with early agriculturalists for lengthy periods of time. Other archaeological assumptions based on bones or fossil study could be called into question by a thorough analysis of previously overlooked genetic material.
     It is known that the practice of planting and harvesting cereals arose about 12,000 years ago in the region where Europe meets Asia, and slowly spread across Europe. Britons didn't adopt agriculture until 6,000 years ago, though - something many archaeologists have put down to the rising sea levels that filled what is now the English Channel. This natural barrier was believed to have explained the delayed the start of the Neolithic, when farmers replaced hunter-gatherers in Britain.
     Researchers analysing sediment samples from the Bouldnor Cliff underwater site off the Isle of Wight found wheat to have been present there 8,000 years ago - two millennia before any cereals were planted in Britain, concluding that: "sophisticated social networks linked the Neolithic front in southern Europe to the Mesolithic peoples of northern Europe."
     "There was a real cultural link between the ancient Britons and Europe," says study leader Robin G Allaby of the University of Warwick, England. "So Mesolithic people were not simply and quickly replaced by Neolithic peoples. Instead there was a long period - thousands of years - of interaction between the two." Allaby said that since no grains were found in the sediment, it's likely the wheat DNA came from flour.
     Greger Larson, an expert in ancient DNA at the University of Oxford who wasn't involved in the study, said the findings provided the first strong evidence for trading between hunter-gatherers and farmers.
     Simone Riehl, an archaeologist at Tuebingen University in Germany who also wasn't involved in the study, said extracting DNA from sediment had the potential to revolutionise scientists' understanding of ancient flora and fauna, adding that: "The interpretation of ancient DNA signatures from such sediments however will probably remain debatable for a long time."

Edited from Phys.org (26 February 2015)

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